Why What We Call the Donors Matters
This is a guest post from one of our PVED mom’s who goes by the name “D”
There is no industry standard for how we refer to the donor in DE situations. Although no one seems to evince any confusion around sperm donors—I’ve yet to hear one referred to as the “donor father”–we seem to treat female donation much more intimately.
Katie Couric recently had an episode that dealt with introducing a DE child (and her parents) to the egg donor. During the episode, the donor was variously referred to as the “biological mother,” “donor mom,” and worst of all for me, “parent.” A lot of us on the board bristled at the use of any parental moniker in reference to the donor, and a lively debate ensued.
I’ve thought about that conversation, and others like it, during my journey through DE parenting. It’s been suggested that I’m minimizing the role of the donor, that I’m insecure around her role and am attempting to reduce her involvement by mitigating the value I place on her, as reflected in my language.
What’s ironic is that unlike the vast majority of the women and men on the board, I actually have a relationship with my donor. She’s been to my home numerous times, played with my children, I’ve met her family and she knows ours. This is not a woman I’m looking to distance myself from.
At the same time, I don’t think of her as my daughter’s “other mother,” “genetic mother,” or any other adjective-noun pair that ends in “mother.” She did not carry my child; she did not parent her in any capacity. Conversely, I don’t think giving an egg is the same thing as giving some marrow or a kidney; giving an egg is transmitting your entire genetic lineage. I just don’t equate that with parenting.
Why, you might find yourself asking, does it matter, then, what we call the donor? I think it matters enormously. Without boring you with a long treatise on semiotics and the science of meaning, suffice it to say that what we call a thing shapes how we think about it, some would say shapes its very nature. It influences what we feel about it, what importance we put on it. I think of egg donation as a neutral event; I can elevate it to the transference of parenthood, or I can confer upon it the worthy role of genetic contributor…but that’s all it is.
I choose to frame it differently in my own thinking. There is no historical precedent for the relationship roles we are creating via egg donation. The fact that we turn to existing terms only serves to prove the point about how powerfully language shapes the very way we define or think about a thing or a situation: I think of the donor as a “mother” because I don’t have language to speak or think about her differently. If I change my language, I change my thinking.
Do you doubt me? If so, start referring to a “pregnancy termination” as a “feticide” and you’ll see what I mean. Ditto a “breakup” as a “broken heart.” And I’ve made my point previously with evolving racial monikers. Language is the words I use to describe my feelings. I don’t feel like my donor is my daughter’s “other mother,” so I don’t refer to her as such.
I’m helping the world think of donors in a new way. There was a time when there was no such thing as a “gay” person; the ancient Greeks would have scratched their heads to hear someone identified as homosexual; sex relationships weren’t defined by gender so much as by role (i.e. the passive vs. aggressive participants). This couldn’t be any more different from our current understanding of sexual orientation. Did human nature change, or did our language around it—and analogously, our thinking—change and evolve? Will changing our language around DE lead to a broader, deeper, more accurate understanding of our relationships to our children and to our donors?
I would argue yes.